Sunday’s sermon: Salvation Comes in Abundance

Text used – Isaiah 55:1-13

  • Julia has been asking about snow and dying to make a snow angel since before Halloween.
    • Not really sure where the idea came from or who reminded her about snow angels
    • Been practicing on various floors and patches of ground (grass … cement … gravel … doesn’t really matter what) for weeks
    • And then, on Tuesday, it finally snowed. By the time I left my office on Tues. afternoon, there were at least 3 inches on the ground, and the conditions were perfect for snow angels.
      • Snow wasn’t so deep that she’d have trouble getting up or moving her arms (not like the snow we got on Friday!)
      • Snow was fluffy and soft → easy to sweep aside as she moved her arms and legs back and forth
    • But you know what? She didn’t even wait for the afternoon. Because our daycare was sick this week, Julia was at home with Peter on Tuesday, and not even an hour after the snow started, Peter texted me picture: Julia all dressed up in her snow gear (boots, hat, coat, mittens, snow pants) making a snow angel on the driveway → There was barely an inch of snow on the ground, but for that little girl who had been dreaming of making a snow angel for so many weeks, it was enough. The saying goes that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but I think we can make a slight adjustment to that. I think we could say that “abundance is in the eye of the beholder” as well, and for Julia, just that little bit of snow was enough – enough for her creativity, enough for her joy.
  • Need to seek out abundance – to find that “enough” = situations Isaiah’s hearers were well accustomed to
    • Background we’ve already discussed: Is was written during the time of the Babylonian exile → Isaiah himself was part of the contingent of Jews who were captured and transported from Jerusalem to live in Babylon
    • Other background for this particular passage from Is
      • (commentary from RevGalBlogPals) Rev. Julia Seymour, pastor at Big Timber Lutheran Church in Big Timber, MT: In Isaiah 55, the people of Israel have been exiled a little over two generations. Since the prophecies Second Isaiah are generally considered to be contemporaneous with Ezekiel, these words are likely coming after the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the death of many who believed God no longer favored God’s first people.[1]
      • Dr. Stephanie Mitchem, professor and chair of the Dept. of Religious Studies at the Univ. of South Carolina give further insight into the theme of this portion of Isaiah: Chapters 40-55 of Isaiah are grouped together as the Book of Consolation. This Book of Consolation had a significant place in the life of the Israelite community because it developed during the exilic period, speaking words of hope and consolation to people cut off from their homes and caught in political situations. This consolation defies the oppressive situation of their lives.[2] → Remember, the general role of prophets like Isaiah was to deliver God’s word to the people, and nearly every prophet (with the exception of Jonah) was called by God to deliver that word during a time of difficulty in the lives and history of the people of Israel.
        • Usually delivered during a time of “falling away” – a time when the people of Israel had turned to other deities and cultic practices from other cultures to satisfy their spiritual needs instead of to God → words of the prophets were a call to return to following and worshiping God
        • Usually delivered as part rebuke and part promise → There were the kind of words that we would probably try to spin as “constructive criticism” today, but let’s face it: no one likes to be corrected, especially when they don’t really think they’re doing anything wrong in the first place right? So the job of a prophet was often a difficult, thankless, and unpopular job.
          • Certainly is plenty of that rebuke – that “constructive criticism” – throughout the book of Is → But today’s passage is the other side of the coin – the promise and the reassurance from God that balances out the rebuke.
            • Promise of God’s provision for the people
            • Promise of God’s presence among the people
            • Promise of good to come in the midst of the bad
    • And through Isaiah, God frames that promise in the celebration and community of a meal – text: All of you who are thirsty, come to the water! Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat! Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk! Why spend money for what isn’t food, and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is good; enjoy the richest of feasts.[3]
    • From there, God moves into the language of true promise and covenant – a promise of relationship and God’s own steadfastness to the people in return for the people’s devotion to God and God alone. → powerful section full of redemption, forgiveness, and hope
      • Recalls the grandness and righteousness of the people’s past by referencing King David – their greatest king, the king who brought them together as the united kingdoms, the whole people of Israel – text: Listen and come to me; listen, and you will live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful loyalty to David. Look, I made him a witness to the peoples, a prince and commander of peoples.[4]
        • All those times that God implores the people to “listen” – Heb. = listening with attentiveness, with discernment, with intelligence, with obedience → God is asking the people to listen with their whole hearts and their whole minds, their whole lives and their whole being. This is active listening at its most truly active – listening that changes who you are and how you go about being in this world.
        • God is also reminding the people of the abundant, saving, eternal nature of God’s own promise
          • Heb. “everlasting” = particular word for time that is cyclical and unmeasurable → This is a word for time that is more drawn out and boundless – a word for time that has no beginning and no ending. And God uses this word in relation to God’s own covenant with the people, promising them a relationship that is immense and boundless and wholly inexhaustible.
          • Heb. “faithful loyalty” = two very special words combined into one phrase
            • First part = word with no true English equivalent but most often gets translated as “steadfast love” or “loving kindness” or “mercy” → word almost exclusively applied to the relationship that God has with God’s people – scholar: God’s loving-kindness is that sure love which will not let Israel go. Not all Israel’s persistent waywardness could ever destroy it. Though Israel be faithless, yet God remains faithful still. This steady, persistent refusal of God to wash his hands of wayward Israel is the essential meaning of the Hebrew word which is translated loving-kindness.[5]
            • Second part: amen = word that we’re probably actually too familiar with – Rev. Dr. Matt Schlimm (from 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know): We say [“amen”] at the end of almost every prayer. Functionally, it means, “The prayer is over. We can all open our eyes now.” The Hebrew has several shades of meaning. “Amen” comes from a cluster of words that refers to what’s true, trustworthy, reliable, and faithful. … Truth implies a commitment to reality, and faithfulness implies a commitment to others. … When we say this word at the end of prayers, we’re signaling not only that we agree with the prayer but also that we’ll do what’s needed on our part for the prayer to come true. We commit to living in a way that helps see the prayer reach fruition.[6]
            • These two words combined together put a powerful, wholehearted, authentic, desperately loving emphasis to the promise that God is extending to the people in this passage. God is offering never-ending love. God is offering God’s own presence and provision.
    • God goes on to make it clear that this is a two-way relationship. In fact, despite having been rebuffed and ignored time and time again by the people, God invites them into this blessed relationship of sacred abundance. – text: Seek the Lord when he can still be found; call him while he is yet near. Let the wicked abandon their ways and the sinful their schemes. Let them return to the Lord so that he may have mercy on them, to our God, because he is generous with forgiveness.[7] → passage rich with promise[8]
      • Heb. “found” = word that implies togetherness → promises the people that finding God means being in relationship with God
      • Heb. “near” = all-encompassing – physically near, near in time, and near in connection/allied → promises the people that God will be near to them in every way possible
      • Promise contingent on one thing: repentance – text: Let them return to the Lord so that [God] may have mercy on them. → Heb. “return” = same word as “repent”
        • Dr. Schlimm fleshes this idea out for us (again, 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know): [The Hebrew] gives people concrete images that teach them about the dangers of sin and how to get back into a right relationship with God. Instead of making religion something abstract, it’s about getting in “the zone” of a covenant with God. When we pass through God’s covenant and find ourselves in sin, we need to turn from wickedness and return to our Creator.[9]
    • Passage today ends with God’s reminder that while that promise and provision may not always take the form that we want it to take, God is with us, working and loving and healing and teaching and saving among us and through us – text: My plans aren’t your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans. Just as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and don’t return there without watering the earth, making it conceive and yield plants and providing seed to the sower and food to the eater, so is my word that comes from my mouth; it does not return to me empty. Instead, it does what I want, and accomplishes what I intend. Yes, you will go out with celebration, and you will be brought back in peace. Even the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you; all the trees of the field will clap their hands. In place of the thorn the cypress will grow; in place of the nettle the myrtle will grow. This will attest to the LORD’s stature, an enduring reminder that won’t be removed.[10]
      • Rev. Julia Seymour: Poised in this liminal and hopeful state, between exile and homecoming, God is clear. The people are in a safe space to perceive the possibilities of God’s blessings and promises. Leaning into God’s faithfulness will help them to step out in trust, to return to their land, but to that their strength is in the Lord. … The space that is here and now, the life we have, is the arena in which we learn, truly, that God’s ways are not ours. God’s words and deeds bring life, light, and love. Advent is the season, the time, when we are prepared (before being distracted) to re-focus our minds and hearts on God, especial God in Christ. … If the message of Ezekiel 37 was that nothing is too dead for God, surely the message of Isaiah 55 is that when God brings life, it will be (is) beyond anything for which we would dare to hope, much less ask.[11] → Salvation has come … is coming … will come again, friends. As we wait and wonder, question and worry, ponder and hope this Advent season, may God open our eyes to the abundance of the salvation – the “enough-ness” of that salvation – in all the circumstances we face. Amen.

[1] Julia Seymour, https://revgalblogpals.org/2013/12/09/narrative-lectionary-what-ho-edition-isaiah-55/.

[2] Stephanie Y. Mitchem. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Isaiah 55:1-5, Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 290.

[3] Is 55:1-2.

[4] Is 55:3-4.

[5] Norman H. Snaith, http://www.bible-researcher.com/chesed.html.

[6] Matthew Richard Schlimm. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 16, 17.

[7] Is 55:6-7.

[8] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/isaiah-551-13/.

[9] Schlimm, 69.

[10] Is 55:8-13.

[11] Seymour.